Library of Congress > Collections > Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting > Articles and Essays > Watson Machine International: Microcosm of American Industrial Development

Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Watson Machine International: Microcosm of American Industrial Development

  • Historical Depth and Change

    Watson Machine International is probably the oldest continuously operated manufacturing firm in Paterson. Founded in 1845, it fabricates and refurbishes a variety of machines used in the wire, cable, and fiber-optics industries; some of its earliest products were machines used in the textile industry.1 The company is a microcosm of American industrial development. From its founding by two British immigrants in 1845, it has ...

  • Industrial Vernacular

    In his book Made in America, John Kouwenhoven has described the importance of what he calls the American vernacular: the blending of skill and resources in North America with labor markets and expertise drawn from a variety of international sources.1 This vernacular, or blending, he argues, resulted in such seminal inventions as the cotton gin, the flat-hulled steamboat, the double-bit axe, and the repeating ...

  • Work, Family, and Home

    Despite recent changes that militate against generational depth in Watson Machine's work force, there are still many workers — such as the Kuehns, the Buonfortes, and Ian Watson McLaughlin himself — who have deep family roots at the plant and in Paterson's machine-tool industry. Newcomers who do not have relatives in the plant extend their workplace expertise into the home in other ways, often ...

  • Worker Camaraderie and Solidarity

    The increasing heterogeneity of the Watson work force in recent years, particularly its ethnic diversity, and the long commutes required for suburban living have reduced some of the camaraderie and solidarity that previous generations of workers shared. Company-centered social events, such as the lavish company picnic Watson Machine used to hold every year, have fallen by the wayside. While workers still share various skills ...

  • Gender

    The culture of gender at Watson Machine is almost exclusively male. While women fill some of the firm's professional and support positions, the workshop floor is still a male subculture. One of its most interesting features is the way in which generational identity and ethnicity cut across gender orientations in determining appropriate male worldview and activity. Pin-up photos and girlie magazines are kept at ...

  • Ethnicity

    Watson Machine's work force has become truly multicultural as well as multinational. Since World War II, a group that once consisted mainly of men of German, Italian, and Eastern-European descent has given way to representatives of ethnic groups with roots in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and a number of Spanish-speaking countries. Because of seniority, ethnic enclaves have developed in the shop. For example, ...

  • Neighborhood

    As both a structure and an inhabited space, Watson Machine occupies a significant position within its Railroad Avenue neighborhood. To the west, it attaches an industrial presence to the downtown core and the city and federal buildings that occupy that space; to the east, the vibrant 21st Avenue area and the old but still active Joseph Teshon, Inc., textile mill link Watson Machine to, ...

  • Conclusion

    The research conducted at Watson Machine provides insights into the importance of developing ethnographic, or insider, perspectives on the changing skills and expectations of workers in the machine-building trade. In addition, this concentrated study of specific work techniques — machining a gear, retrofitting an electrical system for a buncher, or designing a jig to measure thread depths for a strander — also grounds historical ...